In celebration of Black History Month, Rappahannock Community College’s Student Support Services (SSS) Office has been sponsoring talks on several days in February from “Black History Makers” — area people who have achieved success through hard work and perseverance. At the second of these, on February 10, SSS administrative officer Lorraine Justice introduced DaShana Kemp and Dr. Kelli Williams Gary to speak on the theme of “Exceeding Expectations.”
For the next occasion, Dr. Merthia Haynie, a physical therapist and owner of Abilities Abound Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Callao, and Ms. Ebony Campbell, owner of “Echoes” Café, a coffee shop and breakfast and lunch restaurant, will be heard in the lecture halls at both campuses on Wednesday, February 17.
Next up, on Monday, February 22, will be Ms. Chimere Carroll, an RCC graduate who now works for the United States government. All the events are scheduled for 12:30 p.m.
DaShana Kemp was born in Middlesex County, graduated as salutatorian of her class from King and Queen Central High School in 2004, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, minoring in communication studies, from Christopher Newport University in 2008. She then pursued a master’s degree in education and human development from George Washington University, graduating in 2011.
At present Kemp works three different jobs. She is human resources business partner with Newport News Shipbuilding—which she calls “a great experience” — and COO of Emerge: The Magazine, which is a business resource dedicated to providing education to entrepreneurs and business owners; her column, “My Two Cents,” appears in each issue of the magazine. She also owns a business which provides financial education to families, aiding them to make better decisions for their future. “Wealth,” she said, “is not about having money, it’s about having options,” and adds, “I have a strong desire to help people.”
Exceeding expectations is Kemp’s guiding principal. “Laziness,” she says, “is disrespectful to those who believe in you, and have sacrificed to give you a better life.”
Dr. Kelli Williams Gary, an assistant professor in the department of occupational therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the first African-American ever to be hired for a tenure-track position in that department. After her military career was cut short, 25 years ago, by a traffic accident in which she sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), she developed an interest in occupational therapy from observing her own therapists.
“I couldn’t walk, write, or talk,” she says of her condition after emerging from a two-week coma; but the therapy she received enabled her, eventually, to earn a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Chicago State University, and two master’s degrees from Columbia University in New York. She was the first person who had ever simultaneously earned a master’s degree from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and another from its School of Public Health. Her next accomplishment was a doctorate from VCU.
Dr. Gary can now look back on 21 years of clinical practice, eight years of research, and five years of teaching experience in occupational therapy. She has been the author or co-author of a multitude of journal articles, as well as two book chapters, primarily focused on racial and ethnic minorities, and on caregivers with TBI and other disabilities. She has spent five years in grant management and leadership roles for a large federal grant titled “Project Empowerment: Building Minority Disability Research Capacity.”
For this, her responsibility was to work closely with historically black colleges and universities, through lectures, workshops, and a regional conference, in order to enhance their efforts to build research capacity. Another grant she has been associated with was aimed at increasing literacy training of low-income children in Petersburg.
Canada, Puerto Rico, and South Africa are some of the places where Dr. Gary has traveled to present topics at international conferences and to conduct research. She is currently on the board of directors for the Brain Injury Association of Virginia (BIAV), a special national committee that reports directly to the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs in Washington, D.C., and co-facilitates a monthly support group, sponsored by BIAV, for people with brain injuries.
“When people say you can’t do it,” Gary observes, “that’s a great motivator. If you keep going back, you’ll usually find a way around.”